There’s nothing more pure than the arcade racer. I don’t just mean in terms of handling or visuals: the notion of plugging all your pocket money into a coin-operated machine might be lost to some of TSA’s younger visitors, but it’s certainly something Sega are all too aware of and with Outrun Online Arcade they’ve essentially taken one of those massive big free standing units and condensed it into 450MB of pure PlayStation 3 goodness. Amongst some of the heavy weight Store downloads recently Outrun is a welcome tonic: an undiluted trip back to when videogames were simple, pints cost less than two quid and Refreshers weren’t sold in ‘retro’ sweet shops.
This, of course, brings both positives and negatives: whilst Outrun Online Arcade’s meat is pulled from the carcass of Outrun 2 SP there’s very little of the fleshy bonus stuff that accompanied some of the earlier console versions, and there’s no set of original Outrun 2 tracks in here: this is just the Coast to Coast stuff that whilst perfectly able to hold their own makes the selection a little light for anyone expecting this to be the comprehensive Outrun 2 compendium. Yes, it’s only the price of two Sackboy t-shirts, but when you’re missing half the courses, the obligatory retro version and the much better ‘Euro’ remixes of the classic soundtrack you can’t help but feel a little short changed.
The positives with this bare bones approach to Outrun 2, then, is that all the cars are open to you from the off, rather than having to progressively unlock them, and whilst the differences between them are negligible there’s still enough to warrant choosing the top-speed F50 for the main Outrun mode but switching to some of the older but more nimble creatures like the Daytona for the slide-heavy Heart Attack mode, which tasks you with performing various daft maneuvers for your omni-present girlfriend sat beside you. A little like real life, but at 250 KPH. So, this is Outrun 2 stripped bare, but how does it fare?
Brilliantly. As if anyone had any doubt with Sumo Digital behind the wheel, this is a 720p/60fps masterpiece of arcade mechanics. The menus might be a little sparse and functional compared to their previous Outrun conversions (and even compared with GT Club+, their cool little racer for Konami) but loading is quick, menus navigate spritely and once in-game the visuals are as good as anyone could have hoped for. Yes, there’s the feeling that a lot of the textures are just upscaled and the HUD isn’t even in high definition, but if you’re worrying about the lack of polygons on a tree as it flips past you you’re not playing the game properly.
Graphics don’t live or die on resolution or the size of the Max files, thankfully, and were Sumo have excelled is in creating a consistent, vibrant feel to everything within Outrun Online Arcade. Right from the off as you say goodbye to the flag man the remaining 4 minutes and 59 seconds will streak by in a blur of primary colours, heavily populated colours and a draw distance to die for. Aside from the occasional (and tiny) stutter when you reach the end of a section the framerate doesn’t drop a single refresh and although we’d have moved the audio remixes there’s still something wonderful about racing to Magical Sound Shower, those classic tunes tie everything together.
If you’ve not played an Outrun game since the original you should know that Outrun 2, in whichever version you play, requires deft use of the brake or gears. Not to slow you down, you’ll rarely need to do that, but to knock out your back half and initiate a drift. Automatic shift users will need to tap the brake and steer hard to start a slide, but opting for manual means you only need to flick down a gear then back up to throw your car into one of the hundred drifts you’ll need to use each race. Outrun is strictly against the clock but over each game’s 5 segments you’ll have to pass countless vehicles and fellow racers used like Ridge Racer markers, and drifting is the best way to get around 50% of the corners without losing speed.
Once you’ve grabbed all the offline Trophies (which will take a day) it’s over to the online mode. Whilst options are basic, the game supports PSN invites and you can join any game you wish, even if it’s already in progress (although you’ll have to wait it out in the lobby) or set up your own and wait for your rivals. Voice chat is supported (although hardly used in our playtests) and the action is mostly lag free assuming everyone is on a decent connection – certainly the frame rate remains constant even if the path of the other cars doesn’t always. Online races provide a much more tactile experience with trading paint not something the AI cars are interested in.
The game has leaderboards (both local and online) but the old-school post race high score table surely a concession to the original arcade machine that Sumo didn’t need to make: it’s local only, and thus to find out how you did against the rest of the world (and not just your Gran) you’ll need to move through lots of menus to find the appropriate online leaderboard. A shame, especially as the game makes such a big deal of telling you it’s uploading your score when you cross the finish line.
So, not perfect by any stretch, but as close as we could have hoped for. The visuals are fine, blessed with the classic Sega styling that has kept us keen followers of the brand for years; the frame rate is superb; online works reasonably well and best of all the Dual Shock 3 seems like a perfect match for the drift happy delicate controls needed to get those top scores. Some will moan at the lack of options and extra bonuses found in other versions of Outrun 2, but this was never advertised as anything more than a pure arcade conversion, which Sumo have done with absolute integrity and confidence.